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Flooding Continues to Devastate Northern Haiti - 2004-09-21

The death toll from severe flooding continues to rise in northern Haiti, where more than 600 people have died in the aftermath of tropical storm Jeanne.

The rain started falling on Saturday night, and within hours, residents of Haiti's Central Plateau were climbing on rooftops to escape the rising flood. By Sunday, severe flooding all but destroyed Haiti's third largest city Gonaives, leaving most of the city underwater.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti is coordinating the relief effort. Commander Carlos Chagas, a Brazilian military officer with the United Nations, has visited the flood zone.

"More than 80 percent of the city was reached by the flood," he said. "A lot of houses were underwater or were destroyed by the strength of the water. A lot of people were strolling around, they don't know where to go. Some people were carrying the dead bodies of their relatives."

As the water levels recede, the U.N. says it expects the death toll to rise. So far, many of the casualties have been children.

In some areas, floodwaters reached over two meters, carrying off animals, destroying crops, and washing away homes. Roads into the area are blocked, and local police have abandoned their posts. Most of the Argentinean peacekeeping camp was destroyed.

Aid agencies arrived by helicopter on Sunday, and have begun distributing clean water and food to the nearly 80,000 homeless residents of Gonaives and the surrounding area. But they warn that security may complicate relief efforts. Two Red Cross vehicles were looted yesterday by mobs desperate for food.

Interim President Boniface Alexandre has appealed to world leaders to come forward with aid. The U.S. Embassy has promised $60,000 in immediate relief.

Prone to flooding because of deforestation, Haiti lost two-thousand people to floods last May in an area near the border with the Dominican Republic.